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Edge of Tomorrow is a perfect deconstruction of Tom Cruise’s greatness

There are no other movie stars like Tom Cruise. And despite his litany of hits across an over 40-year career, there’s no better movie to explain his stardom than 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow.
Director Doug Liman’s future-set action movie about humanity’s war with robots casts Cruise daringly against type as Cage, a stiff bureaucrat in a suit, terrified, cruel, cowardly, and almost completely incapable… at least, at first. But when he suddenly gets the power to reset to a certain moment in time when he dies (and with a little training from Emily Blunt’s legendary war hero), he slowly begins to learn how to fight, how to lead, and how to win the war. It’s basically Groundhog Day with robots, guns, and giant swords.
But beyond just being an incredibly kickass action movie — which it is — Edge of Tomorrow is also an incredible deconstruction of Cruise as an actor. For years, Cruise’s on-screen MO has been effortless charm and talent. He was a brilliant lawyer who won an impossible case the instant he decided to try in A Few Good Men, he was a pool shark who could beat the pros in The Color of Money, and he was the best pilot at a school full of the best pilots in Top Gun. But Edge of Tomorrow was the first movie to let us in on a secret Cruise would spend the entire decade after exploring: Appearing effortless takes a tremendous amount of work.
Edge of Tomorrow is like a movie made of behind-the-scenes footage. It’s the cinema of grueling, endless hard work, and the incremental improvements determination can get you. Cage dies over and over and over again. His development as a savior of humanity is, like anyone’s development at anything, decidedly nonlinear. Sometimes he makes genuine progress, getting a few feet further into the battlefield before the robots mow him down. Other times, he tries something new and dies faster than he ever has before. But even in those failures, Cruise’s trademark focus comes through — in his tight-lipped sneers or the way he tenses his jaw and narrows his eyes — and we see the improvement building. And slowly, by the end of the movie, Cage looks as effortless in battle as Tom Cruise felt in the ’80s.
And that effort — the hard work and grueling failure — is the real secret to Cruise’s success. Watch any behind-the-scenes footage of his Mission: Impossible movies and it’s impossible not to see little bits and pieces of Cage in there. In fact, a major part of the promotional campaign for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One was how many attempts it took for Cruise to nail the stunt where he jumps a motorcycle off a cliff and parachutes away.
Hard work is more than just a part of Cruise’s movies now; it’s baked into why he wants you to see them. He’s way beyond effortless cool now, and we have Edge of Tomorrow to thank for that. Now that he’s in the latter half of his career, Cruise is finally ready to let us know that he’s not just the biggest star in Hollywood, but the hardest-working one, too.

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